An American Editor

September 26, 2012

The Business of Editing: Beware Office for Windows RT

Coming soon to virtually everywhere is the release of the new version of Windows — Windows 8. It will be released in basically two forms: RT for tablets and other devices using the ARM processor and a PC version for devices that use non-ARM processors. So far, so good.

The problem is not with Windows 8 per se. The problem is with Microsoft Office 2013, which is scheduled to be released shortly after the release of the Windows operating system. Office for devices that will run Windows RT will be crippled from an editor’s perspective. As the Office Next blog says,

Office Home & Student 2013 RT is Office running on the ARM-processor based Windows RT OS. It is full Office built from the same code base as the other versions of Office, with small changes that were required as a result of differences between Windows 8 and Windows RT.

But those changes aren’t necessarily small, at least not for the productive editor. According to Microsoft, the following are the primary differences between Office for Windows RT and Office for the PC; that is, Office RT lacks these capabilities:

  • Macros, add-ins, and features that rely on ActiveX controls or 3rd party code such as the PowerPoint Slide Library ActiveX control and Flash Video Playback
  • Certain legacy features such as playing older media formats in PowerPoint (upgrade to modern formats and they will play) and editing equations written in Equation Editor 3.0, which was used in older versions of Office (viewing works fine)
  • Certain email sending features, since Windows RT does not support Outlook or other desktop mail applications (opening a mail app, such as the mail app that comes with Windows RT devices, and inserting your Office content works fine)
  • Creating a Data Model in Excel 2013 RT (PivotTables, QueryTables, Pivot Charts work fine)
  • Recording narrations in PowerPoint 2013 RT
  • Searching embedded audio/video files, recording audio/video notes, and importing from an attached scanner with OneNote 2013 RT (inserting audio/video notes or scanned images from another program works fine)

The key difference for an editor, I think, is the inability to use macros. The lack of macro support is an absolute deal breaker for me, and means I will not even consider buying an ARM-based device, which leaves out the Microsoft Surface RT tablet (the higher end Surface Pro will be using an Intel processor and so will use Office Pro, which is the standard desktop version of Office; see this comparison of iPad with Surface RT and Surface Pro by Laptop Magazine).

I have spoken with several editors who are either currently using tablets or are thinking of buying a tablet in the near future. I have to admit that the idea of the tablet intrigues me as a tool for editing, although I suspect I would quickly miss my three 24-inch monitors. I suspect that the tablet would end up like my laptop — brought out only a couple of times a year when I’m traveling and never really doing any real work on it.

(My laptop is at least 6 years old and is still in excellent shape. It runs Windows 7 and Office 2010 without a problem, albeit more slowly than a newer laptop would. But what I found with my laptop is that I wasn’t very productive when it came to editing because of its format and because I couldn’t hook up my three large monitors; the laptop has the ability to use the built-in 17-inch monitor plus one additional monitor. I’ve become spoiled by my three 24-inch pivoting monitors.)

Right now, I can’t see justifying the expense of buying the Surface Pro or a similar tablet and I wouldn’t consider an ARM-based tablet now that I know macros Office would be crippled in the RT version, which would set my productivity back to the stone age of editing.

But I am planning on buying Windows 8 and Office 2013. Microsoft plans to offer a great upgrade deal for users of Windows 7 wanting to migrate to Windows 8 — $49 for the software. Even if I don’t install it right away, I’m going to buy it at that price. One of the reasons I am interested in Windows 8 is because Microsoft has finally developed what looks like a great cross-platform operating system (OS). I have been holding off upgrading my 8-year-old cell phones because I would like to get a Windows 8-based cell phone, too. I’m one of those people who likes to make life simple and easy, and using the same OS on my desktop, my laptop/tablet, and my cell phone strikes me as being the easy path to take. I may be wrong, but that’s the plan.

In any event, those of us who are dependant on Microsoft Office for our editing need to be cautious about deciding which tablet, if any, to buy, if the tablet is going to be used regularly in our business as a laptop and/or desktop replacement. It appears that Office 2013 will not be available for the iPad; instead iPad users will have to use Office for the Web, which raises other worries for me (see The Business of Editing: What Happens When the Cloud Isn’t Available?).

If all I want is a tablet that will give me e-mail and Internet access, I have one already: my Nook Tablet. If I want a professional’s tablet, that is one that gives me access to all the tools I use as a professional editor, I will have to look at the Surface Pro or an equivalent from other makers. If I simply want to get my work done in the most efficient manner I can, I’ll save my money, stick with my desktop and its three monitors, and go the cheap route, buying the Windows 8 OS and Office 2013 Pro upgrades. Right now, it’s looking like a safe bet that I will choose the latter path.

What plans do you have?


October 14, 2011

Is This Worrisome? A Baby, an iPad, and a Magazine

Filed under: A Humor Interlude — Rich Adin @ 7:43 am
Tags: , ,

Although cute, I find this video worrisome.

It is symbolizes the problem I see with the future of language and the acceptance of Twitter-speak/spelling as the norm. Increasingly, I am receiving e-mails that are in the Twit style. And I can see future writers saying, “If it isn’t wrong according to spellcheck, then it must not be wrong!”

May 3, 2010

The Decline & Fall of the Agency 5

April 2011 is the month to prepare for armageddon in ebookdom. It is when the 2010 agency model pricing scheme will be buried by publishing’s 2010 savior, Steve Jobs and Apple. You read it here first.

All the stars and moons and planets will align and the caterwaul of panic will be heard throughout ebookdom, because that is when the Agency 5 — Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Penguin, and Hachette — will realize they have been snookered by the snooker master.

“Why is April 2011 so important,” you ask? Because it turns out that Steve Jobs did the Apple version of bait and switch on the big 5 — the agreement for agency pricing was/is only for 1 year. Come April 2011, I’m willing to bet that Jobs will drive the final spike into the agency pricing system for ebooks. Not necessarily the agency model, just the pricing — $9.99 (or less) will become the Jobs mantra.

In April 2011, publishers will discover that the iBookstore is a losing proposition. Oh, Apple will have sold many millions of iPads, fulfilling expectations for a successful tablet, but the buyers, it will soon be discovered, either aren’t buying ebooks at all (maybe 1 or 2) or what they are buying they are buying from Amazon or Barnes & Noble or Smashwords. (By the way, nothing could be worse for the Agency 5 than if Smashwords is a bigger success on the iPad than the iBookstore, because that success would be price based.) If the iBookstore is a flop for Agency 5 books, the Agency 5 are out of the catbird seat and Amazon is back in.

Not only does it matter that the iBookstore may be a flop in terms of Agency 5 sales, but if Steve Jobs determines that agency pricing is hurting his income or the iBookstore, he will scrap agency pricing in a heartbeat — or even quicker if he can (again, pricing parameters not the model for the split). eBookers know who to blame for the high pricing, and if they don’t, Amazon reminds them constantly and Amazon controls (or so it is claimed) 80% of the ebook market.

Even if Amazon’s share of the ebook market drops to 50% by April 2011, it won’t have dropped enough to salvage the agency pricing system. To salvage it, the iBookstore has to command at least 35% of ebook sales and probably 50% of Agency 5 ebook sales — plus there can’t be much dropoff in sales of Agency 5 ebooks from pre-agency levels. The Agency 5 are already losing a significant percentage of money on the agency split as compared to the traditional wholesale split, so a drop in sales will compound the problem.

So what’s the backup plan? My bet is there isn’t one. It will be more of the same crying and complaining from the Agency 5, a wailing lament about how ebookers simply do not value ebooks. And then the moment of truth will come — that moment when Apple and Amazon each pressure the Agency 5 to lower prices; that moment when Amazon decides that the Agency 5 needs Amazon more than Amazon needs the Agency 5; that moment when authors decide it is better to cast their lot with Amazon than with the Agency 5; that moment when the Agency 5 realize they have doomed themselves to oblivion unless they take immediate, bold steps.

Jobs and Apple have demonstrated repeatedly that they are no friend of anyone but Jobs and Apple. (Do we need to go any further than the raid on the reporter’s home at the behest of Jobs because one of Jobs’ minions lost his cell phone?) Apple proclaims an open system as it closes its doors; it offers a carrot to publishers while hiding the stick. And there is no doubt that Jobs and Apple will decide on “proper” ebook pricing based on what is good for Jobs and Apple, not for anyone else’s survival.

April 2011 will be the moment in ebook history that historians will be able to point to as the turning point. If the iBookstore succeeds in eliminating Amazon’s dominance of ebook sales and in selling a lot of Agency 5 ebooks, then agency pricing may have a longer life. But if Apple fails to topple Amazon and if the iBookstore sales of Agency 5 books aren’t spectacular, agency pricing will die. The clock is ticking. If I were one of the Agency 5, I’d be working on a new plan and doing a lot of heavy public relations work in preparation for doomsday. Will Google be proclaimed the next industry savior?

February 4, 2010

A Modest Proposal IV: A Radical Notion — Learn About Your Readers

I was reading about the troubles Borders is having, wondering when the funeral oration will begin. Then came news of yet more indie bookstores closing, followed by news of publishers rejoicing over Apple’s ebook pricing structure and the advent of the iPad. All of which was capped by Amazon’s capitulation to Macmillan’s demand for an agency relationship and higher ebook prices.

I’ve followed the publishing industry for 25 years. Some years are better than others but every year there are dire warnings about the demise of publishers — yet they keep on ticking. But the advent of ebooks as a real market force perplexes many publishers.

What threatens publishers is not ebooks but their lack of knowledge about their ultimate customer: the reader. Publishers have been forces of change in history, even though they themselves resist change.

Publishers need to leave the 18th century behind and enter the 21st century. To that end I propose the following radical notion: Forget Amazon, forget pricing problems, forget all troubles but one — your readers. First, recognize and accept that your customers in the 21st century are not the ebooksellers or distributors, not the Apples and Amazons, but the ebook buyers. Then become intimate with what makes some of your customers avid ebook buyers and readers and others just occasional buyers and readers.

Everything hinges on the consumer. A publisher can publish 10,000 books but if none sell, we know for whom the bell will toll. Publishers need to take a page from other industries and learn all they can about their ebookers. Discover why some book buyers are willing to pay a higher price for books at places like Barnes & Noble (books can generally be bought for less at Amazon) and why they are willing to pay for a membership. Learn why some book buyers buy 50 or more books each year, whereas others buy 1 or 2. Learn who your customers are!

Publishers shouldn’t interview a small, statistically valid sample; instead, they should do as massive a sample as possible. Unlike buying a car where the choices are relatively limited, book buying is wide open so a small sample, albeit statistically valid, will not give the kinds of insights publishers need.

There are lots of things to find out. Publishers need to know

  • why some readers are buying both ebooks and pbooks but some are buying one or the other only
  • what will cause a reader to switch from buying a pbook to buying an ebook 
  • how significant are price thresholds
  • how many books are bought but not read
  • why are they bought but not read
  • consumer perceptions of quality defects and what must be improved
  • how does a reader decide which book to buy and in which format to buy it
  • is there resistance to ebooks and if so why
  • what effect does interior design have on the decision to purchase or not purchase a book
  • what effect does cover design have on the buying decision
  • is a different decision-making process used for buying ebooks, hardcovers, and paperbacks

And the list of questions and areas to question goes on. But the idea is to know all there is to know about the book buyer.

Publishers are scrambling about like chickens without heads because they simply do not have the basic information they need in this transitional stage of publishing. Going from handwritten scrolls to moveable type didn’t require intimate knowledge of the consumer, but going from moveable type to ebook does require an intimate knowledge of what makes one person an avid book buyer and another person a casual book buyer.

With this type of in-depth knowledge, publishers can prepare focused programs designed to encourage book buying. My guess is that a publisher is better served by one reader who buys 50 books each year than by 50 readers who buy 1 book each year. It’s also my guess that the children of the 50-book buyer are more likely to become avid readers themselves than is the child of the person who buys 1 book each year.

Publishers need to know and understand their ultimate client — the book buyer — in much more intimate terms than they do now. They also need to accept that in the long-term their success will lie in ebooks, not pbooks. Failure to understand and accept leave publishers on the road to oblivion as the ebook revolution firms its grasp of the market.

February 1, 2010

We’re Running as Scared as We Can

The cry heard in the hallways and boardrooms of the giant publishers is, “We’re running as scared as we can!” Events of the past few weeks simply confirm that those being paid the big bucks have no clue what to do. They are flailing in every direction possible, hoping that somewhere there is a life preserver to grab.

The most recent grab was for the Apple iPad. How clueless can one be to think that Apple would prevent the Titanic of Publishing from sinking. Apple brings to the table a very crippled — from a reader’s perspective — device for ebook reading — and it doesn’t do anything at all for multitaskers. But the big boys heard something they wanted to hear: ebook pricing of $12.99 to $14.99, not $9.99.

But not everything is rosy. If Apple charges $14.99 for ebook XYZ and Amazon charges $9.99, where are consumers most likely to buy the ebook? [News Update: Over the weekend, and after this post was written and scheduled for publication, Amazon conceded to an agency model with Macmillan similar to the model Macmillan has with Apple. Consequently, Macmillan ebooks will be similarly priced on Amazon and Apple. Now we only need to wait a few moments for the other publishers to follow suit.]  Ahh, but Apple’s device will only read books bought at the Apple bookstore, so a book bought at Amazon won’t be readable on the iPad. For that to work, Apple will have to shut out all other booksellers. Alternatively, Apple could make its DRM available to other booksellers. If it does, do publishers truly believe Amazon and Barnes & Noble will sit idly by?

And there is a mighty big assumption being made: that iPad buyers are readers. No one has yet demonstrated that people are chomping at the bit to read on the iPad or that they buy more than 2 books a year.

Suppose Apple sells enough ebooks to capture 20% of the ebook market and begins to exert pressure on publishers to lower their pricing or to do away with DRM. What will publishers do? Aren’t publishers simply requesting a repeat colonoscopy just from a different vendor? Do they really think Steve Jobs is any more interested in their survival than is Jeff Bezos?

Publishers are deceiving themselves. There is no white knight, no altruistic company out there just itching to be a good Samaritan and save the publishing model publishers have come to love. It’s time to wake up and recognize that smell for what it is.

To be saved, publishers must do it themselves. It can be done.

Be creative. Create a multipublisher reader’s ebook discount program for consumers. Establish a central repository (see A Modest Proposal: Dying Days of Giant Publishers) that is device and bookseller agnostic. Improve book quality.

Think about cutting back on 7-figure author advances. Think about ebook device subsidy plans along the lines of what cell phone companies do. Especially think about such plans for K-12 students. Most important of all: fully embrace ebooks.

Forget about trying to control price; don’t fret about it. Here’s the bottom line: Let Amazon sell books at a loss. Who cares. If Amazon decides to compete in the publishing marketplace, let it. [News Update Questions: Will Macmillan’s gambit this past weekend, especially if other publishers follow suit, speed Amazon’s entry into the publishing side? If it does, will Macmillan and cohorts be able to financially compete for authors with the Amazon juggernaut? Have publishers written their funeral oration with this move? Bottom line: Has Macmillan really thought through the possibilities?] If publishers are right that they will lose money at a $9.99 price point, wouldn’t Amazon , too? Or is this a fiction? Besides, let’s be realistic about Amazon — like Apple it wants to make money. If Amazon enters the publishing market and discovers that it can make more money by charging prices higher than $9.99, it will. Consumers only kid themselves if they think Amazon is their friend.

Take up the challenge. Tell Amazon that if it really thinks the maximum price point should be $9.99, prove it to publishers by setting a ceiling of $9.99 on all ebooks. If that is truly the sweet spot, sales will soar and publishers will be able to react and will react accordingly. After all, if Amazon starts selling 60,000 copies of an ebook at $9.99 that publishers have only been able to sell 5,000 copies of in any format at a higher price, publishers will take notice and begin to think that maybe $9.99 is the sweet spot.

Tell Amazon to put up or shut up. If Amazon demonstrates that $9.99 is the pricing sweet spot, publishers will rapidly adjust their business model to accomodate it. Publishers and Amazon have this in common: both want to sell more books and make more money. Whatever is in the way has to be moved aside.

eBbooks are here to stay. eBooks are the growth area for publishing; pbooks are in permanent decline. Publishers must come to grips with that change.

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